I need a new car - Versa Note vs Fit? Or nissan reliability in general?
February 27, 2014 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I need a super reliable car!

Hey, I really need some car advice.

I'm looking to get something super reliable and affordable. I like the Versa Note, but I have always owned Hondas and Toyotas and not sure about Nissan. I have heard very mixed things. I don't make a lot of money (26k/yr) so if I'm buying new I need something that will last a long time (20 yrs, 200k+ miles) like my current Toyota.

I have looked at 4-6k used cars, but they don't seem like a good value considering the used car market in my area is pretty hot right now and good deals are hard to find.

Should I spring for a Honda fit or Toyota Yaris? (15 -16k)

I've been quoted 13,350 for the Note through the end of this month.

posted by seraph9 to Shopping (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't advise "no Nissans" hard enough. My husband had one when we got married, so it's been my second car for five years or so. I have a Saturn that's a year older than his Altima, and the Nissan has more issues and is more expensive to fix--we're talking maybe $1k of work done on the Saturn in the last five years, vs...well, a lot more than that for the Nissan. Currently, the Nissan isn't even operable because we need to drop about $2500 to get it working again. The Saturn, on the other hand, is still going strong, despite similar patterns of use and maintenance. Nissan gets 0/5 stars from me; would not purchase again.
posted by MeghanC at 8:47 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your current Corolla is 20 years old, you have a model that is renowned for its reliability, much like the Dodge Dart from the 60s was. Neither Toyota nor Dodge sell a car that well-made any more, so you're looking for something that's cheap to maintain and repair, or has a really long warranty (10 years/100,000 miles.) Personally I don't think the Fit or Note meet either criteria, but I do think the Fit has a researchable history that the Note does not, so if those are your only acceptable choices, Fit.
posted by davejay at 8:50 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

We just purchased a Honda Fit after considering a Nissan Versa Note (among others). The reviews for the Note have only been okay. They haven't been the greatest. It's a "meh" car, at a pretty good price. You might also consider the Kia Rio hatchback purely based on price.

The Honda Fit is not going to have a 2014 model year; they are introducing a completely redesigned 2015 model in the spring. This means that you can get fairly good deals on the 2013 Fit today. That's ultimately what we wound up purchasing.

Our previous car was a 2007 Fit. It's been a very reliable car.
posted by blob at 8:52 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know about Nissans but I love my 2012 Fit. If I had it to do again I would pony up for the Sport. But the standard is still fun to drive and the most reliable and versatile car I've ever owned.
posted by rocketpup at 8:57 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know a lot of people who love the Fit. A good friend of mine owns both a Corolla and a Sentra, and the Nissan has given her nothing but problems.

I am unexpectedly in the market for a new car, as mine was totaled in a car accident last week, and reliability / safety have been very important to me in my research. My old car was a 1999 Camry, and it definitely saved me a lot of injury and may have even saved my life by the way it took the damage of the accident. While we haven't made a decision yet, we're leaning towards a Corolla from Hertz's Rent to Buy program, where you rent a car for 3 days and then if you like it you buy it for a firm (below blue book) price; I found a 2012 Corolla with 34K miles on it for $12,500, which was much less than I could find a comparable car for elsewhere.

It's worth noting that one of the reasons the Fit is skipping the 2014 model year is because they had some positively disastrous results on a new crash test, one that has just been added to the roster. A lot of small cars do badly on this test, alas. (The Corolla did great on it though.)
posted by KathrynT at 8:59 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might consider buying a one month subscription to Consumer Reports, as they have detailed reliability data for used cars. We have a Versa, which is the Note's predecessor, and it's been fine. I've got a friend with an 07 Versa, and his has also been fine.

That being said, when doing research on this ourselves, we found that the Fit's reliability numbers were impeccable. If reliability is your primary concern, buy a Fit. Price was a factor for us, and the Versa was $5,000 less than a Fit, so we bought the Versa. If we get 10 years, we'll be happy.

I think the Versa is probably a fine car especially for being so cheap, but the Fit will almost certainly be better. The other thing I'd say is that you're a lot better off financially buying a car that's a year or two old and still under factory warranty.
posted by cnc at 9:03 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a 2013 Fit Sport and really, really like it. (I can't say I looooove it, but that's purely for a few minor reasons that have nothing to do with how it runs.) It's been very reliable, gets great mileage even with all my city driving, and I love how it handles. I can't speak to current model Nissans, but the mid-'90s Nissan I had till about 2004 definitely seemed to have more mechanical problems than it should have.
posted by scody at 9:06 AM on February 27, 2014

My family has a 2007 Versa. It's very roomy for a subcompact, but the reliability hasn't been great.

I agree with you that used cars aren't necessarily a good deal. You don't know what you're getting and they're often not enough of a discount of make sense.

If you want a new, small subcompact, I would wait a few months until the 2015 Honda Fit is in dealerships. Neither the current Fit nor Yaris do well in the IIHS small-overlap test, but Honda expects that the 2015 Fit will do well.
posted by Dasein at 9:13 AM on February 27, 2014

I drove a Versa as a rental and I couldn't hate it more. Poor fit and finish, cornered like a coffee table and so ugly it hurt my feelings.

Both Husbunny and I have owned Hondas for the past decade and we could not be happier in our vehicles. He is over 6' tall and he LOVES his Fit.

I agree, if you can wait, buy a 2014 Fit once the new 2015s are in the showroom.

Also, go at the end of the month, during a big game. You'll get a better deal.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:14 AM on February 27, 2014

We've owned two Nissans. The first one, an early-90's Maxima, and the other a 2001 Maxima. When we sold the 90's Maxima, it had 315,000 miles on it, and was still running great. We still have the 2001 Maxima, and it now has north of 415,000 miles, and also still running great. So, I'm definitely sold on Nissan quality.

My wife drives a 2010 Fit Base. Good little car. Easy to climb in and out of. Holds a ton of stuff, too. Haven't had any issues. The ride is pretty typical for a Honda, erring on the firm side.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:18 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's worth noting that one of the reasons the Fit is skipping the 2014 model year is because they had some positively disastrous results on a new crash test, one that has just been added to the roster. A lot of small cars do badly on this test, alas. (The Corolla did great on it though.)

No, the Corolla did not do well. The Civic did well.
posted by Dasein at 9:20 AM on February 27, 2014

Point taken. The corolla did not excel, but did better than the Fit.
posted by KathrynT at 9:26 AM on February 27, 2014

I honestly can't think of another car for sale in the US that I would less like to own than a Nissan versa.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:38 AM on February 27, 2014

Worst thing about the fit is the automatic transmission. Get it in manual if you can. We bought ours through AAA and got a pretty good deal.
posted by Poldo at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2014

Three of my friends/family members own Nissan SUVs and absolutely love them. No problems, excellent reliability, nothing but raves. My 2009 Versa has been a lemon from the start, with all kinds of quirky electrical issues: problems with the sunroof, the trunk, most recently the stereo (causing the battery to die in the dead of winter). It's a nice roomy car for hauling passengers, people in the back seat always remark on the spacious headroom, and the trunk isn't bad for such a little car, but reliable, not really.
posted by GreenEyed at 9:46 AM on February 27, 2014

Road and Track offers a bit of perspective on the test results.
posted by 1367 at 9:51 AM on February 27, 2014

BTW, we recently purchased a certified 2009 Fit for Mrs. 1367 to use, and have been happy with it. I cannot offer any insight as to how it would compare to the Versa, though.
posted by 1367 at 9:54 AM on February 27, 2014

Best answer: If you are buying a car for a 20 year lifespan, get the Honda or Toyota. If keeping a car this long is realistic for you buying new absolutely makes sense and spending more on the purchase price for a real increase in quality is also a good idea. I prefer Hondas to Toyotas (cars anyway), but that is a largely subjective thing.

I have driven both a versa and a corolla as rentals as didn't really care for either one. Both were cheap feeling, handled poorly and I didin't have any confidence in either one on the freeway in traffic

I currently own a Nissan Juke which I really like and so far has been very reliable (this car shares some mechanical bits with the versa and a LOT of interior bits). My only quality related complaint is the carpet is really thin and wears quickly. Floor mats are a must. It did have a minor defect from the factory that appears to be an installer error that any car can have happen (it was fixed under warranty and Nissan was great-this is more to do with the dealer than the brand though).

I did test drive a Fit for my mom recently (she ended up with a subaru forester for the AWD). The fit was typical honda-competent and adequate and confidence inspiring. The Honda Fit's great attribute is amazing interior space in a tiny car. It is simply astonishing. They are bigger inside than either the versa or yaris and the way the rear seat folds down gives it a HUGE cargo area. It is tardis-like. I passed on the fit over the juke due to the front sit of the fit didn't go back far enough for my preferred driving position-I am 6'2" and the seat needed to go back about an inch to be really comfortable for me. I also liked the engine better in the Juke but there is nothing wrong with the Honda-I just wanted the direct injection turbo more.

So for these choices I would go with the Fit, especially if you plan on keeping it for more than 5 years. The versa is a great cheap car that is pretty much disposable. It is made/designed for being as cheap as possible in the american market and it shows. The fit is somewhat more, but it is a better value. For the same money I would also look at the Kia Soul (if you can take the styling).

And a last note-for reliability reasons I would stay away from any Continuously variable transmission (CVT) setup. Nissan has really gone whole hog on these and the jury is out on reliability. I hate the way they drive (they are good for fuel efficiency though). So far the biggest problem I have heard on them is they get noisy as they wear and you MUST change the fluid in them to keep them from failing early (say 100k or so).
posted by bartonlong at 10:02 AM on February 27, 2014

I'm working as a mechanic right now. Every time a Nissan comes in, what would be a $200 part on a Honda is $400. Or $600, because you can only get Nissan parts, not aftermarket. They also don't seem to take repair into account like Honda or Toyota does; something that takes two hours on a Corolla takes three on a Sentra. I sometimes feel uncomfortable charging so much more when it wouldn't otherwise.

They're both great cars; some of Nissan's bigger-engine cars are a ton of screaming fun to drive. But all other things being the same or comparable, I'll take whatever is *not* Nissan every time.
posted by notsnot at 10:03 AM on February 27, 2014

Just a note about consumer reports: typically your local library will have years of them, including the big car one, so no need to even pay for a month of it if you don't want to. I went into the library and took pictures of the reliability matrix pages with my phone (yes, I am a terrible person).

Also re: the Versa, it's worth noting that it was built specifically to be the cheapest car sold in America. Take from that what you will. To be honest I don't like either car you mentioned.
posted by selfnoise at 10:07 AM on February 27, 2014

Best answer: Wow, no love for the Versa. I'll be its sole defender then, I guess.

My SO has one (2006, base model hatch + auto trans) and I drive it from time to time. It's not a "fun to drive" car, but it's reliable, efficient transportation. You can throw a ton of crap in it — honestly it's like a Bag of Holding; you can fit things in there that you would never assume could fit, like 8' long 1x3 boards (they have to sit up on the dashboard, admittedly), about a quarter-cord of firewood, hundreds of pounds of cat litter, whatever — or you can put four large adults into it comfortably, which is not the case with most small import subcompacts.

The engine is somewhat underpowered compared to other, more expensive hatchbacks; if I go from the Versa to my VW GTI, it feels like I'm driving an F1 car. But it's also like half or two-thirds the price of a GTI, and the maintenance is cheaper.

It has about 70k miles so far and it's required nothing but oil changes, brakes, and one set of tires. Admittedly that's not that impressive, but a good start. Since it's a new car to the US market there's not a ton of very long-term maintenance data on it, although it's been around for a while internationally (as the Tiida, but with different engine options) and it seems solid.

The only reason why I wouldn't get a Versa, provided you can live with its very modest performance characteristics (though again, the damn thing is so cheap, or at least it was in 2006, you could buy a Versa and a sweet motorcycle for the price of a 'hot hatch' like a Mazda3 and get your jollies on the bike), is if you live in an area where mechanics will just refuse to work on it because "hurf durf jap cars". That is actually still a thing in some places, believe it or not. In that case, get yourself a Ford Fiesta.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:17 AM on February 27, 2014

I have a 2011 Versa hatchback, and it is a lot of bang for the buck. I don't drive a ton, but I haven't had any major issues with it. It's really roomy inside for a small car, easy to drive, easy to park. There weren't any other cars at the time that I could buy for $14k that had power windows, 1.8L/4C engine, full stereo, etc. As Kadin2048 says, it's not the peppiest car in the world (my 2001 Jetta GL was more fun to drive) but it's fine for what you get.

That said, the Versa Note is actually a totally different car than the Versa. In other countries it is considered a different product line (much like each incarnation of the Jetta is called something different in Europe). I don't know anything about it.

You might be able to find a good deal on a certified pre-owned Versa that's only a few years old?
posted by radioamy at 10:47 AM on February 27, 2014

cnc: "The other thing I'd say is that you're a lot better off financially buying a car that's a year or two old and still under factory warranty"

If you do this with a Toyota, you can also buy the honest-to-god Toyota 5 year/100k mile extended warranty for under a grand from certain dealers who hang around on Toyota forums. As long as the factory warranty is still in effect, it doesn't matter that you're the second owner. When my SO bought her Toyota a couple of years ago we had the factory warranty, the certified used warranty that we didn't even want or care about, and the extended warranty. (the factory warranty was literally less than a hundred miles from expiring when we took delivery) Normally I would say no to a certified used and the extended warranty, the former because it drives the price up unnecessarily, and the latter because most modern cars are reliable enough you won't get your money's worth, but it was priced well below market because of some previous warranty repairs that necessitated a new engine block that were only a few thousand miles behind it at the time.

Net, I think we could have saved a grand total of $300 had we not bought the extended warranty since it turned out the previous repairs were indeed done properly. Since there were a couple of items we were able to get taken care of under warranty that we would have had to pay out of pocket for otherwise (wheel bearing and something else I can't remember right now, but minor problems, not breakdowns) the true cost to us wasn't the full cost of the warranty.

I would recommend the Fit or Yaris or a Scion. I would anti-recommend the Kia Soul, as literally everyone I know who owns one (more than 5, less than 10) has had it in for warranty work at least twice in the first 6 months of ownership.
posted by wierdo at 10:53 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a 2008 Fit Sport, which I bought new.

Other than normal car maintenance stuff (brakes, tires, etc.), I have had to pay exactly $0 in car repairs so far. I'm pretty happy about that.

The only thing that I really don't like is that the OEM battery has something like 320 cold crank amps, which I learned all about when my car had a dead battery on a -15 windchill morning a few weeks ago. In it's defense, the battery was probably due for a replacement anyway, but if you live somewhere with brutal winters, it's something to consider.

Also, my boyfriend is 6'3 and all legs, he does not find the Fit comfortable for him at all. It's got a ton of headroom though.

Overall I'm really happy with it. Would buy again.
posted by inertia at 11:25 AM on February 27, 2014

When I bought a car on 2011 I chose between the Honda fit and the Mazda 2. If you haven't looked at the mazda it may be an option. Though be warned getting tires can be difficult depending on what part of the US you are in. Our local tire shop keeps one or two around for us which is nice but when we went north west and got a flat it was sheer luck that we found one.

Mine is a manual transmission and has 47,000 miles and hasn't needed a repair outside of regular maintenance . It's stood up to my constant Chicago driving and handles really well in the snow. It is a newer model though so your long standing reliability is sort of unknown from what I understand.

I'd go with Toyota over Nissan. My MIL has a Nissan and it's been nothing but trouble and expensive to repair.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2014

I have a 2007 Nissan Versa hatchback with the 6-speed manual. Pretty sure we are over 100k miles on it now, or close to it.

It's been a great car- other than a weirdo computer issue that was replaced under warranty very early on, it's put up with years of abuse and poor treatment without a problem. While it's not super exciting to drive, it's a great commuter car and the headroom is excellent.

I should note that after the 2007 model year I think they started putting in smaller engines to decrease cost on some models? Mine has a 1.8L engine, iirc. Smaller engine might move it from 'not exciting to drive' to 'dreadful to drive', but I haven't been in a 1.6L model.

I've heard a lot of angst about Nissan reliability issues, but my experience has been pretty good!
posted by AaronRaphael at 1:52 PM on February 27, 2014

Best answer: Should I spring for a Honda fit or Toyota Yaris? (15 -16k)

Many months ago i posted a huge rant evangelizing the corolla, but i could say the same about the yaris seeing as how it's the new tercel/echo. They are VERY basic, but it's pretty much just the parts that matter. It's like the distilled essence of a car.

As a comment on nissan though, they're just... not that great. My partner has an 02 sentra and it's been a goddamn nightmare despite only having 54k miles(failed ECU/computer, bad sensors, expensive dumb failed things like window motor assemblies+switches which was like $700, dumb little annoyances like the trunk release motor failing very quickly, body clips on the bumpers, seats disintegrating, i could go on). My boss also dumped a similarly aged nissan because it suddenly had shitty compression despite religiously following the maintenance schedule, and i've heard other reports of that story online.

Meanwhile, i have nothing but nice things to say about even newer toyotas. My old roommate beats the shit out of her mid 2000s corolla and it never ever has any problems, my boss now has a highlander hybrid and a prius that her sons have crashed(both of!) multiple times and they're still going with huge dents in them. And they got abused for almost a year as the company delivery vehicles for my work after the electric delivery car exploded! A really good friend of mine got a 03ish rav4 from his mechanic brother for his 16th birthday. He drove it all through highschool, college, and beyond and beat the CRAP out of it. Now his younger brother is driving it through highschool and college. We'd go on enormous 4 day road trips and overload it with music gear and people. It had been stolen and joyridden before he owned it, and half the interior was missing and it was smashed up. Never ever had a problem besides adding oil once in a while. My grandpa would say the same thing if he was still around, and my 86 tercel is still driving around seattle somewhere.

I have never, ever seen vehicles as reliable as toyotas. They're "tire and oil change" cars, and the parts are cheap if they aren't(WAY cheaper than honda, and in my experience cheaper than nissan too). My grandpa drove mine from 88-02(it was a company fleet car before that), and i had it until around 07. Me and my dad put probably 60-70k miles on it and changed nothing but the tires and oil, and nothing failed or needed to be replaced except for maybe the clutch towards the end. I've never heard anything but that story, the only people i know who ever killed a toyota either totalled it in a wreck or a flood.

There's nothing wrong with hondas, they're well made. You just overpay for them and the parts are expensive. They're like the apple of cars. I can't really say anything negative besides the price, but i think you can get a better value for your $ buying a toyota.

I was going to recommend subaru too, but they suffer from the same issues as the diesel mercedes from the 80s where the engines are invincible, but everything around the engines breaks and then you have to pay for it.

If i ever got a new job where i got a signing bonus i could buy a car with, i'd either buy a new-ish yaris or a used prius, not a G35 or something silly like a lot of my friends have. Pragmatic? Idk. But i like spending my money on stuff i want to do or own, not car repairs.

One important thing: How tall are you? The small toyotas, although i haven't been in the very newest(IE: newer than 2010) models, have AWFUL headroom. Nissan sucks at this too, but i'm 6'2 and they always felt like a clown car to me. Have you driven all these cars around? have you sat in the back seat and read a magazine for a minute(if you're regularly going to be carting your friends around). Do you have to have the seat maxed at as far back as it will go to comfortable drive? Does the steering wheel adjust, and if not does it hit your knees unless you sit bow-legged? Food for thought there. I am like, winzipped into the early 2000s sentra or corolla... but the newer ones seem larger inside? i haven't driven them, only ridden in them.

-A guy who does nearly all his own repairs that don't require specialized tools or a lift on any vehicle he owns/regularly drives, and may or may not know what the fuck he's talking about.
posted by emptythought at 4:11 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies. It seems the Honda Fit is the general consensus, although I'd be curious how the Yaris compares since it is a bit cheaper. I have test driven the Versa Note and the Yaris and found the driving position a little weird in the Yaris but it was an older model and perhaps I should try the new ones.

To elaborate:

- I would get a manual in whatever I got since I find them more fun to drive
- I'm only 5'2" so I can fit into anything :)
- I was a little concerned about the IIHS safety report for the Fit but if I figure if I buy a used older car it probably won't be any safer in that respect.

Anyway, lots of good info and ideas to consider! At this point I'm leaning towards seeing I can get a good deal on a 2013 Fit!
posted by seraph9 at 5:55 PM on February 27, 2014

Another datapoint: Nissan Juke owner. Screaming fun to drive, AWD setup is great for snow. But... it has little rattles, and doesn't FEEL super quality. When I've rented the Versa, which I believe shares a platform and a lot of parts, I must say that the idea that you're driving a coffee table is an apt analogy.

40k and 18 months of ownership (new) on the Juke, so long-term quality I can't speak to at this point. But if I had to pick a less jazzy small car than the Juke, I'd avoid Nissan.
posted by slateyness at 6:40 PM on February 27, 2014

We have a 2007 Honda Fit. We have never had any problems with it at all. Nothing.

We often consider getting a new car but we rarely drive (we have only put something like 65,000 kilometers on it since 2007, about half the normal amount), and the Fit has a lot of cargo space compared to other cars in its class.

I kind of wish it had more power, but that's only the one or two times a year we have to travel over the mountain pass.

The Yaris has half the cargo space.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:03 PM on February 27, 2014

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